During past Fourth of July holiday seasons, Ceres firefighters and police officers had their hands tied when it came to cracking down on illegal fireworks. They were only able to cite those caught in the act of lighting the type of fireworks that explode or leave the ground on a state statute.
That's all changed and now mere possession of aerial fireworks enables an offender to be cited with a misdemeanor in Ceres.
"Illegal fireworks are now a violation of our municipal code allowing us to cite people for possession of illegal fireworks for up to $1,000 per incident," said City Manager Toby Wells.
The action was explained at the Monday, May 8 City Council meeting.
Ceres citizen Leonard Shepherd, a retired state forestry fire captain, told the council that he would like to see the fine set at $10,000 to become a real deterrent. City Attorney Tom Hallinan said the administrative fine is in addition to the criminal prosecution which involves up to $1,000 and six months in jail.
The proliferation of illegal Fourth of July aerial displays and the sound of illegal explosive devices reached a pinnacle last summer in Ceres and other neighboring cities. The blatant disregard for the law prompted Ceres city officials to discuss the matter in September.
Wells said the city had formerly been challenged to enforce the ban on illegal fireworks through a state health and safety code that requires an officer to actually see someone light a fume. He said the state code was a "pretty high standard and difficult to enforce."
Ceres and Modesto decided to move toward changes in the municipal code to make possession of illegal fireworks a violation of municipal code. The move gives the city "a lot more latitude and allow the city to set the fine not rather than relying what the state levels are and again the need to prosecute" said Wells.
On May 22, the City Council will consider increasing the permit fee to operate a "safe and sane" fireworks booth from $282 per season to approximately $399. The fee increase is designed to cover staff time necessary to process the applications, Wells noted. Ceres only allows non-profit organizations like scouts, churchs, clubs and sports teams to sell fireworks within the city limits.
Wells said the city has yet to formulate a plan to staff enough personnel to catch illegal fireworks users and may decide to deputize firefighters before fireworks sales begin.